View Full Version : Anyone else have a dominant cavalier?

Daisy's Mom
15th September 2006, 04:51 PM
Our Daisy is quite a little bossy lady! We have had biting problems with her from Day 1, which we have been working on and to be honest, I think we have kind of just gotten used to being bitten all the time rather than the fact that we have made any real progress with her on addressing it. Yelping out in pain has zero effect on her. Putting her down and leaving the room -- also zero effect. Distraction works occasionally. Right now we are hoping that when her teething is over, that will help the problem more than anything we are doing! We have also just started puppy kindergarten, and we're hoping that will help, too. She is 4 1/2 months old.

Don't get me wrong -- she's sweet most of the time and we love her. She's hilarious with her antics and playfulness, and when she's worn out, she's very cuddly and loving. She's as smart as they come and responds really well to training and learning tricks when treats are involved. She is affectionate with everyone, so she's not a mean dog. It's just that when she's with you, about 90% of the time she is either actively trying to bite your hands, clothing, or hair, or is at least trying to mouth them. That really gets old. I know some of it is normal puppy playfulness, but I also feel very confident that some of it goes beyond that and is her trying to establish her place in the pecking order, preferably at the top. It's almost like she has a bulldog or pit bull personality somewhere deep in that sweet Cavalier body.

Anyway, what I'm wondering is if anyone else has such a dominant, assertive puppy? I am just so surprised that a cavalier would have such a bossy personality! Last night, we were outside with her and she was running around the yard with our neighbor's half shi tzu, half poodle dog, who is about 2 years old. It was so cute and they would chase each other around in huge circles, having a high old time. But every time the neighbor's dog (Fluffy) would stop running and lay down, Daisy would immediately put her leg on top of her and kind of hold her down, and would even put her body over her. Clearly a very dominant behavior! I was just so surprised that a 4 month old puppy would have the chutzpah to do this to an adult dog!

The breeder told us that she was clearly the alpha dog in the litter, doing every developmental stage first and physically dominating the other pups in the litter. Of course we learned most of this AFTER we had brought her home and were having biting problems. (Lesson learned for the future -- never pick a puppy based on color preference, pick based on disposition.) Also, reading the Puppy disposition test items online (where you do these little tests to gauge where the various puppies are on the dominance/submission scale) has been enlightening. Daisy is on or near the top of the charts for dominance on almost every test.

We spoke to a trainer who suggested that we put her on her side and hold her down gently until she quits struggling 5 times a day to establish dominance and trust, since she is apparently on a mission to rule the house and everyone in it. We do that when she's jumping and biting at the kids or when she growls at us in a serious way (not play-growling), and you can tell she does kind of get the point. She usually quits struggling immediately and rolls those huge eyes up at us as if to say "OK, OK, I'm sorry." It helps to break her out of the frenzy, but I'm not sure it's having any effect in a more long-term way.

Does anyone have experience with a dominant puppy in terms of whether they mellow out when they get older? When they are spayed? When they quit teething? Or will we have a continued or sporadic dominance challenge with her the rest of her life? (Please say no!)

15th September 2006, 05:30 PM
I don't yelp-- I growl and stare-- they quickly learned to stop and look away. Just like the older dogs would deal with them. I have not had any puppy biting issues.
I have never understood why people yelp-- isn't that showing weakness?? submission?

15th September 2006, 06:46 PM
Kosmo used to bite like crazy when he was a little tike. The most effective method I found was to say AHH AHH loudly followed by NO biting! and then place him away from me witha glare and then completely ignore him. If he came back and bit during the "ignore phase" the time started over. It took a while but he eventually got it. When I have to discipline him now I still say "AHH AHH and NO!" accompanied by a glare and he immediately stops whatever he's doing.

I am sorry you've had so many issues with her biting you!! Puppy teeth are so sharp too!! :/

16th September 2006, 08:13 AM
My Coco (now 2) went through a terrible biting phase untill she was about 6 months. She overcame it eventually, I used to firmly say "NO" when she bit, and gently push her away.
If this didn't work, I would put her out in the back garden to cool off.
It took some patience and perseverance, but it eventually worked.
Good luck....

16th September 2006, 10:41 AM
Can you post a link to those dominance/sumissive scales? I'd be really interested to see where Rio is. She's neither extreme. I suspect she'll be in the middle. :)

However Aggie was a different pup when we had her and much more dominant than Rio. She could hold her own with any dog she met, even my Mothers JackRussel/Pom pup who is VERY aggressive. Not that Aggie was aggressive, but she was definately dominant. We became interested in these behaviours and bought a book on it.

Dogs go through their rank classification period between 13 and 16 weeks. Owners must establish themselves in the eyes of their puppy as leaders of high status. :x It suggests the following...

1. Owners decide where the dog will sleep. High elevation over others indicated high rank (why some dogs choose rear parcel shelf in cars). :drivecar:
2. The dogs food should be prepared at the same time as the owner's in the presence of the dog, who must observe the owner eating first (you can pretend a hot drink is a banquet if you're not eating at that time)
3. Play tug-of-war with the dog on-lead at the owner's invitation, never the dogs, for short infrequent periods. The dog must never be allowed to win or keep the play article. Tug-of-war is the only game of strength which should be played with a family dog. On no accound should you engage in hand to paw/mouth combat or handle the dog roughly.
4. Possessions: the dog is not allowed to own toys, and can play at the owner's invitation only. Articles must be put away afterwards. Do not allow the dog to enact 'catch me if you can' scenarios.
5. Territorial aggression: walking a dog regularly at the same place can sometimes cause serious incidents with other dogs or humans. Similarly at training classes sitting or standing in the same place can lead to problems. Policy should be variety. This holds true even with the dogs bed. He must not be allowed to believe it belongs to him. Using synthetic washable sheepskins as dog bedding and occasionally using them as an extra cushion for your own armchair gives him the important message: bedding belongs to you, not your dog. Corridors in and around the home are the same.. if people step over or around dog it can lead to the situation where no one is allowed to pass without his consent, and sometimes this consent is withdrawn. Always make him move out of the way with a firm command, "Get" thus teaching him respect for your high rank.
6. All commands must be given with authority, touch with humour and a playful handler attitude, once and only once on each occassion. Do not plead or nag.
7. Grooming between dogs is a social behaviour related to pack survival and status. The higher rank grooms and in turn is regularly groomed by subordinated, but always at the invitation of the seniour dog. Similarly regular grooming at human invitation only can have a considerable influence on how biddable a family dog becomes. Family dogs need a regular daily spruce-up with a brush and comb at the invitation of their owner to help keep them in their proper place.

Didn't plan to write such a long post, sorry! :oops: Found it interesting to re-read some of that myself, and thought you might find the tips useful. Good luck with Daisy! 8)

16th September 2006, 03:19 PM
We spoke to a trainer who suggested that we put her on her side and hold her down gently until she quits struggling 5 times a day to establish dominance and trust, since she is apparently on a mission to rule the house and everyone in it.

In my opinion, I would not follow the above advice. If you DO have a pup who thinks it outranks you, this type of action could make things worse. Forcing a dog down on its side or back when it does not feel comfortable could result in a real, serious bite. How would you feel if someone pinned you down to the ground against your will? Would you lay quietly or would you fight back?

It sounds like you have talked to a trainer, but have you taken your pup to obedience class? This can help tremendously. It will help you learn techniques to teach the pup that you (and the rest of your family) are in charge.

One philosophy to this end is the "nothing in life is free" concept. Before you do anything the dog would see as great (giving food, a treat, playing, etc.) you can give the dog a simple obedience command (sit, down, etc.). Then you can reward the dog with the great and wonderful thing. This will establish for the dog that it has to listen to you, do what you say, before it gets anything. If you do this all the time with consistency, you will be surprised how other behaviors will change.

Cathy Moon
16th September 2006, 05:28 PM
This discussion about dominance is interesting. Usually I think about this topic in reference to some of the larger, more dominant breeds, where owners really have to understand how to deal with them and train them. But if we want to enjoy our cavvies to the fullest we need to have a good relationship with them and they do need to understand who is in charge. They need to have a benevolent leader, or they will try to be the boss, from all that I've read and learned in training classes.

I had been taught some items from Cecily's list from a very good dog trainer who owns and has bred and shown belgian shepherds. These are very subtle but important things to do to help your dog understand who is in charge.

I think doing an alpha-roll or holding a dog down as described earlier is considered to be dangerous and often backfires on the owner. It is based on outdated ideas about dog training.

Newer training methods usually involve positive, reward-based training methods. I would look for a trainer who is APDT certified, or at least has studied and uses the newer methods.

I agree with Cindy about the "nothing in life is free" concept, which the trainers I've worked with all use.

Here's a 'sort of' related thread, and Karlin posted some links in it:


16th September 2006, 10:18 PM
i did basically the same as sandy and sara, growl and stare. zack has always been very responsive to a growl, 'nhaa.' He easily stopped biting after being growled at.

i know that dogs do differ in their personalities, and some are more dominant and some are more submissive and some are just not trying to be either one. Zack is not trying to be dominant, and he would be somewhat submissive if another dog acts aggressive toward him, especially a bigger one, but he really just wants to hang out as equals and have a good time--he loves to play rough with other dogs, but he isn't trying to win. He does things just to keep the play going. He's not into that power thing. so i haven't had a problem with him having power struggles with me. I won't say never. there have been a few things but generally he doesn't have that kind of personality or temperament. And that was why i chose him. he was the kind of dogster i was looking for a lover.

That's a good point you made, to choose for temperament rather than just for looks. At least that's what works for me.

good luck--i would probably hire a professional trainer if i couldn't socialize a dog the way i wanted by my own efforts. i don't think basic personality traits or tendencies change but i do think some dogs at least do mellow out as they get older so there may be hope for that. And for certain, training can get the results you want. If you've tried and can't do it yourself, you might want to find a professional to do it for you.

17th September 2006, 03:47 AM
well both my dogs have never been dominant let alone try to be dominant with me...monty however did go through a biting phase...well it was more nibling not biting..however occasionally it would be a bit harder than usual but never hard enough to cause more pain than a second or two and it never broke skin...at first i thought he was just teething and supplied him with lots of toys to keep him occupied ..however he continued doing it a long time after the teething stage was meant to end.. when i realised this i also used to growl at him and stare him in the eye .. i didnt think it was working at the time but after a while he either got the message or just grew out of it. i would also consider getting a professional trainer come and help you with her if you think its becoming a problem. anyway let us know on your progress and good luck! :flwr:

17th September 2006, 03:56 AM
Please do not hold her down. These are very old fashioned and potentially dangerous ways of managing dogs with which one is having training problems. A four and a half month old puppy is not showing 'dominance' -- it is way too young and is just being a puppy, and it sounds like being a very pushy and outgoing one at that. That requires management but not forcing any pup onto its back or other intimidation approaches. It fills me with despair that trainers suggest doing this with a cavalier puppy that is so young. Also the way she is playing with the older dog is TOTALLY NORMAL for a puppy. Adults are very tolerant of small puppies and it has nothing at all to do with dominance -- puppies try all sorts of adult moves as puppies and most adults are evry happy to have puppies climb all over them -- so let them play and don't be worried. :) It is good for her to have such interactions.

It would sure help if breeders sometimes did more to offer insight into puppy personalities at the time families visit to select a pup (it hasn;t helped you much to learn this now, after you have the puppy!); they will know the personalities early on and she should have told you from the start that this was a puppy who could be a handful as this is the type of puppy that will be a challenge for many people. Explaining to people that the puppy they have chosen is the most outgoing and active in the litter -- and the implications for what type of adult dog this will be -- would help avoid many mismatches (and likewise, the reverse -- a quiet, calm puppy may be the wrong match for a family hoping to have a potential agility dog, for example). A lot of people still believe that line that 'a puppy picks you' -- eg the one that comes to you first must be the puppy for you -- but this is almost always the most outgoing puppy in the litter and the one that may the challenge -- hence breeder guidance is very crucial and many breeders actually do the matchmaking themselves because they are the ones that know the puppies best, and should have interviewed the prospective owners to get the best match.

Given that you feel there have been consistent problems I'd look for your closest APDT certified trainer for some one on one advice and an appraisal -- it is very hard to offer advice online for a behaviour problem that isn't responding to what would be the usual approach and 4 1/2 months is getting a bit old for continuous puppy biting -- but at the same time, what you are seeing as a biting problem may just be some normal puppy nipping that seems excessive, or maybe there are some other accidental messages she is getting that are encouraging this behaviour rather than curtailing it. Four and a half months is still pretty young, and puppies will keep trying nips on and off, some more than others, til 6 months or so. Also, if you have kids that are running around and getting a puppy overstimulated, this could add to the problem (have no idea if this is the case but am just offering an example of a situation in which owners might have the puppy in an environment that encourages overreaction -- in this case, better to have very controlled, calm kid interactions with such a young puppy, where kids must be sitting on the floor and never encourage the puppy to play games that will encourage nipping).

An APDT trainer will be someone who can give guidance that does not involve old style dominance theories (and corrective, punishment based approaches to training which can make problems such as yours a lot, lot worse. And I think, also destroy the spirit and special personality of cavaliers -- in every way, it is just the wrong approach to take with a cavalier).

Have a read of this as it gives some insight into why such theories are just plain wrong anyway as a basis for training a dog:


I'll flag your post to the two APDT trainers that are members of the board as well. :)

17th September 2006, 04:15 AM
And this is from a previous post on a similar topic:

Excellent reading on dominance:



Unfortunately, the real danger of the alpha-concept of physical dominance lies in its questionable extrapolation to dog training and husbandry. Instead of being educational, many so-called 'training' methods are just downright adversarial if not abusive; the dog is often viewed as our enemy, rather than as our best friend. Many playful, greeting and fearful gestures are misinterpreted as being aggressive, providing the unthinking owner with a convenient excuse to abuse the dog under the guise of 'training'.

For example, snapping, pilo-erection, growling and lip-curling are often misconstrued as signs of dominance, whereas they are, in fact, more usually signs of fear - most probably the direct product of a person pounding on the poor dog. Similarly, owners are advised that urine marking, mounting people, stealing food, jumping-up and prolonged eye contact are all signs of dominance, for which the dog should be punished. Some ill-advised, big blue meanies are confusing issues and trying to take the fun out of dog ownership. In my book:

A dog which marks indoors, needs to be housetrained.
A dog which mounts people, a) needs to be instructed to desist and b) requires social introduction to another suitably inclined furry quadruped.
A dog which steals food, a) is in desperate need of an owner who remembers to put food away and b) requires rapid introduction to my favorite booby-trap.
A dog which jumps-up, needs simply to be taught to sit when greeting people.
A dog which is tricky about eye contact should be taught a) that human eye-contact is no threat, b) to look away, or look at its paws on command, and c) to lovingly gaze in the eyes of its understanding owner.

Certainly, we need to control dogs - but mental control is what is required, not physical domination. Even though an ill-experienced, middle-ranking dog 'handler' might be able to jerk, hang, roll-over, and/or beat a dog into submission, what is the point of winning the battle and losing the war? What possible advantage is there in converting a 'dominant' dog into a fearful one? Both are equally as worthless as companions or working dogs. Furthermore, most physical corrections are well beyond the physical and mental capabilities of all but a few dog owners. And so, why advise novice owners to enter into a physical contest that they are bound to lose? In fact, why abuse the dog at all, when it is possible to achieve the same end using brain instead of brawn? Why try to wade the Atlantic, when one could take the Concorde?

We must prescribe training methods which are effective and lie within the capabilities of the average dog owner, including women, children and the elderly. If we have learned anything at all from studying dog behavior, ... owners must establish control in a developmental context, whilst the dog is still a puppy. Rather than browbeating the dog into submission, it is far easier to convince the dog to join the team, so that it enjoys life living with us, rather than fighting against us.

Ian Dunbar Ph.D., BVetMed, MRCVS
copyright 1989 Ian Dunbar

17th September 2006, 11:40 AM
Hi Daisy's Mom,

I've only just noticed this thread - sorry!

Karlin has beaten me to the answer too :lol: I echo everything she has said. I really don't think that at her age it would be dominance - this comes a little while after puberty :roll:

Try and get a certified trainer, as Karlin has said and I'm sure you'll reap the rewards :)

Also the advice about choosing a puppy is good. I did this with Maxx. He wasn't the first one to come to me - one of his brothers virtually ate me alive when I sat on the floor to play with them :lol: .

Maxx was the one who came over after a few minutes, he was a bit more wary but then he quite happily played and sat on my lap and slept :l*v: His personality hasn't changed much at all :lol:

17th September 2006, 04:37 PM
I have read the initial post and 'scanned' through the responses. I am responding now as per Karlin's request. Let me start by saying I do not mean to offend anyone but I would like to help little Daisy.

Firstly, can everyone please stop blaming inappropriate behaviours on DOMINANCE. It's an excuse used to label and it is a negative label. Not only is it a negative label but also a dangerous one and any responsible trainer will not use it. Think about it, I tell a young hard man that his Rottweiller is 'Dominant'. Many of these young men purchase these dogs as accessories. He goes home and thinks 'you won't be dominant with me', his demotion technique is to kick the dog until it 'submits' he slaps a choker on, pulls the dog around and 'keeps it under his control and in check. At best dog gets some bruises a sore neck and suffers from fear for the rest of it's life, either that or the dog has control conflict issues and attacks back. I would be responsible for that, for the dogs injuries and the owners injuries. Right that's that part done.

If you support the dominance theories 100% I suggest you read a little book called 'Dominance Fact or Fiction' by Barry Eaton available from dogwise.com. Brenda Aloff is another author who discusses dominance and aggression etc. Also read DOGS: A NEW UNDERSTANDING OF CANINE ORIGIN, BEHAVIOR, AND EVOLUTION by Raymond & Lorna Coppinger.

Dominance theories were based on observations of captive wolves, alpha rolls etc. When wild wolves were observed some of these theories were revisited so it is not as simple as whether your dog is dominant or submissive there is so much more to it than that.

The thing about dominance theories is that they come hand in hand with demotion techniques such as holding puppy down, eating first, holding the muzzle, restraint, reducing the height that your dog is allowed to attain etc etc. Why not simply teach your dog some 'self control'? You cannot be there 24/7 to hold your dog, command your dog. Your dog must make these decisions and be rewarded when they get it right.

Ask yourself, if I hold this puppy down until she stops struggling what does she learn? She learns that when your hand is on her side there is a possibility that she will be held down (so she will learn to avoid), she will learn that when she is quiet she is set free (simple she will do that but not for a dominant reason but more so because it works)
So the restraint technique teaches her that any hand on her side will mean being held down which is a negative experience. What happens when a child places their hand on her side to gently pet her? Will she accept it? will she issue a warning to that child in the form of a growl? Will you determine that as dominant too and correct the growl so that next time there is no warning just a sharp bite? So when do you stop demoting? When she is 2, 3, 7 or OAP?

So back to little Daisy. Main problem is excessive mouthing? I am presuming this is what it is. If it was biting she would be displaying aggression for a reason. If it is aggression and she is growling and bearing her teeth then we need to go back to square 1 so don't read any further and get help from a qualified and insured trainer/behaviourist.

I suspect the reason Daisy is continuing to mouth and increase the intensity and number of incidents is because it gets her what she wants. She loves to be spoken to, looked at and touched and I would imagine these high value rewards follow an incident of hard mouthing? So you need to change how you are reacting. Don't wait for her to make contact with you, if she even attempts to mouth and even tips your skin with her teeth or mouth let out an unmerciful screech, and then STRAIGHT AWAY she gets 30 sec time out, isolation. Once the 30 secs are over then you allow her access to everyone again. If she repeats the behaviour then time out is 45 secs is next time.

That's not just it though. You MUST teach Daisy a variety of Self Control exercises and permission exercises. These are far more valuable than demotion techniques.

I will post the self control exercises in the training section of this site as soon as I can so that you can get started.

And finally you need to reward Daisy when she gets it right. If she approaches and doesn't mouth then say 'YES, well done' and reward. If she rests by your side say 'relax, good girl' giving a verbal reward.

Start to deliver any food treats to the floor rather than from your hand. When food treats are delivered to the floor they are a reward, when from the hand they can be a bribe and hence the behaviour attached is not always reliable. Each time she gets it right she must be rewarded so as to reinforce the positive behaviours. This will mean that she does not have to resort the mouthing to get attention.

At this stage because Daisy has learned the negative behaviours you may want to think about clicker training and attaching some verbal cues to behaviours so that you can use these when outside or when visitors call.

I really hope this information helps.

17th September 2006, 04:48 PM
I'm going to add a note hear about the "personality" of your puppy. While right now in one of the most difficult and awkward stages of development, an outgoing and energetic puppy can be a handful, undoubtedly. And you may rightly wish you had a more laid back dog. HOWEVER, once you and the dog find a means of communicating (training) so the dog knows what is okay and what isnt, and you learn more about the dog and what it likes, you may find that this energetic and outgoing dog is PERFECT. I've often found that, once these personalities and their owner counterparts "get it" in terms of training, the owners are amazed at how smart their dog is. They often find activities that both owner (family) and dog enjoy like agility, rally, or therapy. Even if the owner doesnt have time to compete or work in tandem with a hospital/nursing home, backyard agility, living room rally or flu-season- friend therapy, the unruly puppy often becomes the "best dog I ever had"!